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Why Six Sigma Will Work in Healthcare

If ever there were an industry where we want zero defects, it's healthcare. Patients, medical professionals, and healthcare administrators all want mistakes eliminated and quality and efficiency improved. Although most industries have undergone some type of data-supported, systematic, quality-improvement process, healthcare still has not. Medical and technological advances continue to outpace process and education adjustments. Demand and expectations for medical care are increasing. Inefficiency also leads to(causes, brings about, etc.) overcrowded emergency rooms, customer complaints, and lost revenues.

Six Sigma allows a healthcare organization to break through the status quo and achieve real process improvement. Although Six Sigma has its roots in manufacturing, it works just as effectively in a service industry such as healthcare. Healthcare organizations face unique challenges and it's no secret that they have a harder time applying quality improvement methods. Six Sigma's comprehensive approach means that its methodology can be successful in healthcare organizations with quick results.

In a healthcare organization, the critical factors in quality and efficiency are flow of information and interaction between people. Transforming the process of this flow yields quality results. Six Sigma achieves documented bottom-line strategic business results by initiating an organization-wide culture shift. Until a process focus?rather than a task focus?is developed, the scope and endurance of improvements will be limited. Analyzing and modifying human performance in these environments is complex, but Six Sigma provides the tools and methodology required to achieve significant long-term improvements.

The Six Sigma process is a large step toward creating a learning organization through its well-defined road maps and management structure. Six Sigma defines a vision for the future of the healthcare organization, and then it identifies specific goals and establishes quantitative measures to turn that vision into reality. A formal plan is established to identify the overall program goals and timeline that outline the move from current performance levels to Six Sigma performance levels, with tangible, short-term goals in between. Specific Six Sigma projects are identified and goals defined and tied to a tangible organizational performance measure. A wealth of possible Six Sigma projects within healthcare includes, for example, information flow, surgical site procedures, patient handling, and patient charge items. Any process in healthcare is a candidate for a Six Sigma project.

To successfully implement a Six Sigma program requires long-term vision, commitment, leadership, management, and training. What makes Six Sigma successful is well-chosen training and a commitment from the top that is communicated to all levels of the organization. Financially, the first set of projects usually justifies the entire cost of Six Sigma training. Focusing the Six Sigma tools on virtually any properly scoped project will drive savings to the bottom line and achieve breakthrough change in the healthcare organization.

Experienced healthcare quality management should learn the language of Six Sigma and help integrate new methods into the Six Sigma process to improve effectiveness. Six Sigma is a proven approach to reduce defects and waste, thus saving money. Six Sigma will help healthcare organizations just as it has industrial, service, retail, and financial organizations.

Peter Peterka is the Principal Six Sigma Consultant in practice areas of DMAIC and DFSS. Peter has over 15 years experience in including implementation of Six Sigma in Healthcare with a variety of organizations. For additional information please contact Peter Peterka at Six Sigma us.

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